Paid Family Leave and the 2016 Election

By Lindsey Mattila (CMC ’17)

Paid family leave policies are a standard in the developed world. According to an OECD study, however, the U.S. ranks dead last among developed countries offering paid leave policies to new parents.[1] In fact, only eight countries in the world do not offer paid leave for new parents, and the U.S. is the only industrialized country on the list.[2] This is a concerning policy failure given the evidence that paid family leave has beneficial effects for families and businesses alike.

Paid family leave can be beneficial for a new family’s health. Mothers show fewer signs of post-partum depression with more time off after giving birth. Further, mothers are more likely to breastfeed if they have time off from work. Breastfeeding has numerous health benefits for newborns including lower rates of infant mortality and higher rates of immunizations.[3]

With regards to the benefits to businesses, a study done by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that for 91 percent of companies examined, paid leave either boosted profits or had no effect.[4] Further, mothers who have the support to take time off are more likely to return to the workforce, therefore increasing retention rates and labor-force participation. This is especially true for low-income parents. If new parents can take paid time off as opposed to quitting a job and having to find a new one, the gap in lifelong earnings between men and women can be reduced.[5]

Despite these benefits, congress has failed to act on paid family leave. This election cycle, however, could bring change. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have proposed paid family leave policies. Clinton has proposed a mandate for employers to guarantee two-thirds of an employee’s income for 12 weeks of paid leave for families with a newborn.[6] Donald Trump has proposed that the government provide six weeks of paid maternity leave for mothers, however, he has not specified what percentage of income would be compensated. Trump says his plan will be administered through unemployment insurance if paid maternity leave is not already provided by the employer.[7]

There are important differences between the two proposals: Clinton’s will offer paid leave for new fathers as well, whereas only mothers will be eligible under Trump’s policy. Trump’s plan makes the government the provider of paid maternity leave, however, which would further institutionalize this policy. Both proposals would significantly change the status quo since the current U.S. policy, the Family Medical and Leave Assistance (FMLA), only guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid absence to be covered by the employer.[8] To be eligible for FMLA, however, there are several different requirements. Ultimately, 40 percent of the country is ineligible.[9]
Paid family leave is an important issue that is long due for policy attention. Both candidates have indicated they would finally end the U.S.’s long history of inaction on this issue, which could benefit families and businesses alike.

 

 

 

 

[1] “Parental Leave Systems.” OECD. http://www.oecd.org/els/soc/PF2_1_Parental_leave_systems.pdf

[2] Megan Sholar, “Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both support paid family leave. That’s a breakthrough.” The Washington Post. September 22, 2016.

[3] Rita Rubin, “U.S. Dead Last Among Developed Countries When It Comes to Paid Maternity Leave.” Forbes. April 6, 2016.

[4] Eileen Appelbaum and Ruth Milkman, “Leaves That Pay,” Center for Economic and Policy Research.

[5] Heathy Boushey, Ann O’Leary, and Alexandra Mitukiewicz, “The Economic Benefits of Family and Medical Leave Insurance.” Center for American Progress. December 12, 2013.

[6] Megan Sholar, “Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both support paid family leave. That’s a breakthrough.” The Washington Post. September 22, 2016.

[7] “Child Care.” Donald J. Trump. https://www.donaldjtrump.com/policies/child-care/

[8] Melissa Etehad and Jeremy Lin, “The world is getting better at paid maternity leave. The U.S. is not.” The Washington Post. August 13, 2016.

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